Tate Britain: Lucy Mckenzie in Painting Now

“…trying to bring a sense of reality or narrative to what would have once been a perfect Bourgeois interior”

I came across Lucy Mckenzie’s work last year, when the Tate staged it’s Painting Now: Five Contemporary Artists exhibition at Tate Britain. Primarily identifying herself as a painter, Mckenzie considers her paintings as ‘a means to an end, and my use of it changes frequently.’ Mckenzie undercuts the prestige that is historically placed on painting as she works with as much intensity on other projects and interdisciplinary collaborations- she tends to work largely outside of the historic framework of painting yet her work is grounded in questioning it’s history. McKenzie draws from a spectrum of sources: East European propaganda, German abstract painting, Cold War iconography, industrialist typeface and 1980’s pop music. From money, pop stars, to Olympians, McKenzie reconstructs moments of aesthetic idealism and power.Underpinning this is her desire to form new associations or meanings through the use of both existing and newly made source material and to explore and critique the existing orthodoxies they hold.

‘McKenzie’s use of traditional techniques such as decorative and trompe-l’oeil painting is a significant aspect of her work. Over recent years she has produced a body of paintings which take the form of the quodlibet– the name given to a trompe-l’oeil or illusionistic painting depicting ribbons, letters, playing cards, and/or other material of a kind that might be found on a writing desk. McKenzie’s works in this vein have the appearance of cork pinboards with various items attached to them, or tabletops strewn with objects. An example is Quodlibet (Fascism) (2012), in which she has used the form of a mood board to explore the aesthetics of the twentieth-century Italian Fascist movement. Attached to a pinboard are paint sample booklets, architectural drawings for a bathroom, as well as images of different types of marble – all materials that point towards the idea of the interior, or of decoration. Also visible is a flyer for the 1933 Triennale di Milano – the showcase for modern decorative and industrial arts held regularly in Milan.’(http://generationartscotland.org/artists/lucy-mckenzie/)

IMG_1765-1.JPG (Fascism, 2012, http:generationartscotland.org/artists/lucy-mckenzie/)

IMG_1764-0.JPG(Nazism, 2012, http:generationartscotland.org/artists/lucy-mckenzie/)

McKenzie often questions the role of the artist, the nature of artistic production and the value systems that support it. She frequently fixes on the artist as the subject, whether depicted or imagined, and focuses on the actual process of making art. I was particularly interested in her large sculptural pieces that were included in the painting now exhibition. This monolithic structure was seemingly constructed from lightweight material (possibly stretched canvases) yet was adorned with faux marble patterns giving the rectangular structure an aesthetically heavy and expensive connotation. These blocks of marbleised wood/canvas is inspired by the bathroom of an art deco house.

In the spring of 2013, Lucy McKenzie made a trompe l’oeil installation after Villa Müller, a house in Prague designed in 1930 by the Austrian architectural polemicist Adolf Loos. Head-height, makeshift wooden cubes substitute Loos’s monolithic concrete pillars, while the architect’s signature green Cipollino marble cladding is paraphrased by McKenzie’s approximately rendered trompe l’oeil canvases, stapled and glued into place over the tentative structures. Painted volumes abut one another or else stand loosely grouped. The central feature of her exhibition ‘Something They Have to Live With’ at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Loos House (2013) is basic in effect.2 Both arrangement and painting insinuate an opulent domestic space, rather than reconstructing it exactly. McKenzie’s roughness of delivery swiftly dispenses with the notion that her citation of Loos is one of cultural veneration or benevolent appropriation.







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